Everything You Need to Know About Burning Man

Welcome to Black Rock City. 

By Dan Simms Last Updated: December 14, 2023
Last Updated: December 14, 2023

Most people who have attended Burning Man will agree, it’s a life-changing festival that offers a greater sense of awareness, self-exploration, and self-expression.

For those who haven’t, it remains a mystery that, from the outside, looks like a nine-day party in the desert with a focus on sex, drugs, and alcohol.

This guide will serve not only as an explanation of what Burning Man truly is and what to expect if you go but also as a means of preparing for attendance and an unforgettable experience.

What Is Burning Man?

Burning Man is a nine-day music and arts festival that helps attendees connect with each other, the world around them, and themselves. It’s frequented by tech moguls and celebrities and is touted as an experience that drives creativity and innovation.

The festival is often seen as a counterculture event, as the basic systems and rules we live with in the world outside of the festival are non-existent.

Also see: Best Psychedelic Music Festivals to Check Out in 2023.

Where & When Does Burning Man Take Place?

Burning Man takes place each year at the end of August and the beginning of September. It lasts nine days, ending on Labor Day.

The festival grounds are in the Black Rock Desert in northwestern Nevada. The site is about 100 miles north of Reno — the nearest major city.

How Much Does Burning Man Cost?

The cost of Burning Man can vary a lot depending on when you buy tickets and what sort of stuff you’ll need to buy or rent to attend the festival.

Ticket costs for Burning Man range from $425 to $1400 (presale versus late registration). Kids under the age of 12 can attend Burning Man for free.

The cost of equipment rentals can vary. Renting an RV is a good idea to shelter you and your group from the heat. A typical RV rental from the nearby Reno costs anywhere from $75 to $250 per night, depending on the size of the unit. Costs may go up closer to Burning Man in anticipation of the heightened demand.

If you’re on a budget, Burning Man doesn’t need to be expensive — many people attend the festival with little to no money. You can always save money by driving or hitchhiking in and camp with a tent, but it’s recommended you add a layer or two of tarps to serve as insulation from the intense Nevada sun.

What to Expect At Burning Man

It’s impossible to know what to expect until you experience the festival for yourself — but we’ll give you a basic idea.

Many people report it feels like years of therapy crammed into just a few days. It’s a place for total free expression of ideas, a blossoming of new ideas and creativity, and a chance to connect more deeply with the self and others around you.

It’s also just a really cool place to hang out for a few days.

While the spiritual experience may remain ineffable, it’s possible to explain what you should expect in terms of logistics.

1. Self-Reliance

One of the most important principles of Burning Man is self-reliance.

Festival-goers are expected to prepare for their journey. Instead of simply using money to buy supplies, you’ll either need to pack them beforehand or barter for them using your skills or other goods.

This principle of relying on oneself entirely often teaches festival-goers that they can accomplish what they’re willing to do outside of the festival as well.

2. A Life-Altering Experience

Anyone who has experienced Burning Man that went into the festival with an open mind can tell you that their lives were permanently changed for the better afterward.

Attendees have reported a greater sense of self and connection with the universe, spiritual awareness that was unknown to them before the festival, and sparks of creativity and wonder they’ve never experienced before.

3. Burning Man

Burning Man is named after a ritual that occurs every year toward the end of the festival.

A large, artistic structure of a man is burned while festival-goers watch and hang out around the massive bonfire.

The morning after the ritual, many people roast smores and breakfast foods over the ashes of the fire and share one last experience with each other.

4. Counterculture

Burning Man is well-known for its counterculture and anti-establishment idealists.

Themes of this so-called utopian society include a lack of advertisement, no sales or exchanging of money, and the constant gifting of food, beverages, clothes, and other items between attendees.

Love and unification are emphasized over the stresses of the outside world.

Additionally, the festival is a hotspot for alcohol, open sexual encounters, and drugs, specifically marijuana and psychedelics. Although many onlookers see the festival as a nine-day party without inhibitions or rules, festival-goers use these drugs to establish a deeper connection to other people, the world around them, and their sense of self.

For many people, approaching Burning Man with the intention to expand the mind, establish spirituality, and connect is crucial for understanding why psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin are useful on festival grounds.

These substances are used as a method for self-exploration and enlightenment.

5. Radical Self-Expression

Being your true self is more accessible at Burning Man than virtually anywhere else in the world.

You can dance, sing, party, converse, and enjoy yourself openly without the fear of judgment or disapproval from others.

Festival-goers are prompted to go where their spirit takes them and do what they enjoy while they experience everything the festival has to offer. You’ll find that the grounds are like an adult playground where rules don’t exist, and self-expression without inhibition is encouraged.

6. Human Connection

Finally, you can expect to make deep connections with the people around you and enjoy the company of total strangers as if they were your best friends.

Connecting with others who are being their true and honest selves while you are free and uninhibited by social restraints can be a very spiritual experience.

It offers Burning Man attendees a glimpse into the genuine connections that exist at all times outside of the festival as well.

Preparing For Burning Man

While you can prepare food, water, and gear for Burning Man all you want, most festival-goers note that it’s impossible to prepare for the transformation you’ll undergo.

Most people can confirm that the spiritual and creative awakening you’ll experience far outweighs these guiding principles of life at Burning Man.

However, below are a few things to think about as you get ready for your trip.

1. Food & Cooking

Some people go into Burning Man intent on not cooking and carry nine days’ worth of pre-packaged food with them. Others bring ingredients and a small camp stove for heated meals, and some carry a combination of packaged and fresh food for preparation.

Most festival-goers suggest bringing some means of cooking, whether it’s a small propane stove or a hot plate for use in an RV. If you’re looking for a spiritual experience at Burning Man — which most attendees are — the food you consume while you’re there can play a part in your mindfulness, mood, and overall health.

There is no food available at the festival, so you’ll need to pack anything you plan to consume. Remember to pack more than you think you’ll need — you’ll likely be walking, biking, and dancing more than you ever have before.

2. Water

Water is one of the most crucial things you’ll need to plan for when considering attending Burning Man. The Black Rock Desert is a scorching climate, and you’ll be exerting yourself over the nine days. Most people recommend at least a gallon of water per day per person, but planning on 1.5 gallons is safest. That means you’ll need to bring around 13.5 gallons with you per person to last through the festival.

This doesn’t account for showering or washing dishes. You can add about 1 gallon per person per day for this.

There are potable water sources available near Burning Man. However, there are two main reasons you should stock up before you go. Firstly, Burning Man is big on self-reliance, and many festival-goers insist that this is a crucial part of the spiritual journey you can expect.

Secondly, water sources are located outside the festival grounds, so you’ll have to leave and head to nearby cities — Reno, Sparks, and Gerlach — to resupply. Gerlach is the closest at over an hour and a half away, so having to restock will take away from your time at Burning Man.

It’s best to bring gallons of filtered water or several large 5-gallon water tanks full of clean water to last through the nine days.

3. Shopping

When you’re preparing everything you’ll need for your trip, including water and food, your last major stop before heading toward the festival grounds will likely be Reno.

If you plan ahead and get there early, you shouldn’t have any problems finding supplies. However, tens of thousands of people probably have the same intention of hitting Reno before going to Burning Man, so you may want a plan B just in case supplies are limited.

As far as shopping goes, once you get to the festival, there won’t be much available. Again, there’s a heavy emphasis on self-reliance. Alcohol and coffee can usually be bartered for, but cash and credit cards won’t do you much good once the festival begins. Make sure you plan ahead and have everything you think you’ll need for the nine-day journey.

4. Transportation

Most festival-goers get around Burning Man on a bike, and some choose to walk. Bringing an old but reliable bike is highly recommended, as it will allow you to get where you’re going more quickly and allow you more time to enjoy the experience.

The desert air and sand are very hard on bike components, so bring equipment to change tire tubes, lubricate the chain, and perform basic maintenance if needed.

You may want to schedule a professional bike tune-up for just after the festival to minimize long-term damage from the sand and salt. There are bike recycling stands on festival grounds, but they are unable to carry out maintenance or offer supplies for DIY work.

You should also bring lights for riding at night, as well as a durable lock for keeping your ride safe while you enjoy everything Burning Man has to offer.

5. First Aid

Bringing a small first aid kit is a good idea for treating small cuts and other injuries. There are emergency services available for more severe issues, but they may not be able to help with minor injuries.

Remember that you’ll be out in the hot Nevada sun for nine days straight with little cover. A large bottle of sunscreen and some sunburn relief cream or aloe vera is an excellent option to prevent or treat sunburn.

Finally, make sure you have at least a nine-day supply of all of your required medications. This includes inhalers, allergy medicine, epi-pens, and any other prescriptions you may be taking.

6. Prepare for Dust Storms

The Black Rock Desert is well-known for its dust storms, which can be quite jarring and uncomfortable if you aren’t prepared. It’s recommended that you bring goggles to protect your eyes and some type of face mask that will help prevent breathing in dust particles.

7. Footwear

Finally, suitable footwear is absolutely essential when attending Burning Man. You’ll be on your feet for hours and hours every single day, walking, biking, dancing, and more.

Make sure you pack comfortable shoes that you’re accustomed to, as well as a backup pair in case an accident ruins your primary shoes.

Key Takeaways: What is Burning Man?

Burning Man is a nine-day music and arts festival that takes place around Labor Day every year in Black Rock Desert, Nevada. Attendees live in a constructed utopian society where self-reliance and self-expression are among the most essential principles.

Most festival-goers recall Burning Man having a significant impact on their mental health, spirituality, sense of self, and creativity, even long after the experience has ended. You can expect to make friends, be your true self, and expand your mind and beliefs while enjoying everything the festival has to offer.

While you may not be able to prepare for or understand how you’ll change mentally at the festival, prepping food, water, proper clothing, first aid equipment, and transportation are crucial for getting the most out of Burning Man.